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Alcohol

Cassandra Rook, a bartender at The Office Bar and Grille, mixes a drink for a customer Thursday. Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters has proposed two new ordinances to cut down on alcohol-related crime.

There are disturbing indications that Casper has an alcohol problem.

Consider that nearly 60 percent of the people who are booked into the local jail are intoxicated. And nearly half of drunk drivers arrested by city police had blood alcohol concentrations of more than twice the legal limit.

Drunkenness is too often a driver of more serious crimes than public intoxication: DUIs, bar fights, domestic abuse and sexual assault.

But who should bear responsibility when it comes to crimes born from excessive drinking? Of course, when drinking at home, a person is exclusively responsible for the personal choices they make to overconsume. But when the same individual is out at a local watering hole, and the bartender or cocktail waitress serves them alcohol to the point of over-intoxication, are they, too, responsible in some way?

Police Chief Keith McPheeters is proposing a new rules in Casper dealing with just this issue. One would prohibit employees at an establishment that sells liquor from being intoxicated while doing their job.

This one seems like a no-brainer. Bartenders and cocktail servers are responsible for ensuring that they aren’t serving to minors or overserving their patrons. They just can’t do this well if they’re intoxicated.

Another new rule would target overserving specifically, making it illegal to sell alcohol to a clearly intoxicated person. And while this new rule is very well-intentioned, we think it raises questions about enforcement.

For one, how do we legislate levels of intoxication? Each person is unique – they can handle varying amounts of alcohol; they exhibit their intoxication in different ways; and everyone’s idea of “over-intoxicated” likely falls on a pretty broad spectrum.

In a busy bar atmosphere, a bartender may see a patron for a matter of minutes when they order a drink. Later, that same patron may order a second drink from another bartender. If the patron isn’t exhibiting signs of over-intoxication when they order their second drink, how is the second bartender to know if they should be cut off or not?

Meanwhile, a patron on the other end of the bar may be ordering drinks from the same cocktail waitress all evening. The server is keeping an eye out for slurred speech or stumbling, but the patron remains articulate, focused and relatively sober. But shortly after the latest round, the patron is falling over themselves, slurring their words and struggling to stay engaged in conversation. Is the server liable because they served the patron to the point of over-intoxication?

Consider a third scenario. A lone waitress is working the bar. She’s confronted with a group of rowdy patrons who demand more alcohol. It’s easy to say she should turn them down, but in such an intimidating situation, should she really be to blame if she supplies another round when they’ve probably had enough?

And how would all of this be enforced? Should our police officers be stationed at bars, watching the servers, instead of patrolling the streets?

These are tricky questions. That’s why we would suggest McPheeters work with a task force that includes liquor dealers and bartenders to find the right answers.

Striking the right balance is key here. Bar owners will need to make sure that their bartenders are well-trained in recognizing signs that someone might have had too much, which TIPS training should already be teaching them.

Getting buy-in from the owners of local alcohol establishments will be crucial to making sure this law is enforced the right way. Bar owners are on the ground when it comes to facing this problem. They know the issue better than most. Moreover, they should be inclined to ensure that their establishments aren’t breaking the law, while also knowing how to realistically enforce it. The city would do well to get their input on the issue, then return with a rule that works.

Ultimately, though, the choices we make when we’re drunk – and the consequences of those choices – are our own. Cutting down on over-drinking and alcohol-related crime is a worthwhile endeavor – but in the end, personal responsibility comes first.

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